The Church’s Identity Issues

I have previously staked my claim that much of how we do church in North America has its roots in a Christendom mindset. If the modern church was born out of Christendom it has been raised in consumerism. In fact, I would press the point to say that churches and church models—even the most progressive—find their identity coming more from a Christendom and consumerism paradigm than a biblical paradigm. Biblical images of church have given way to images of church that are spawned from history or contemporary culture.

All plastic shopping carts.
Photo Credit: Polycart via Compfight

In A Light to the Nations, Michael Goheen offers nine images of the church that reflect the legacies of Christendom, the Enlightenment, and consumerism more so than the Bible. See if you can identify any of these from your church experience:

Church as mall or food court: The church provides a variety of programs to meet the religious needs of the congregation.

Church as community center: Programs are conceived for youth, singles, young marrieds, and others to meet their social needs.

Church as corporation: Church leadership and organization is oriented toward efficiency rather than pastoral care or mission, organized to market the religious goods they offer.

Church as theater: People are invited to sit back and passively enjoy various kinds of worship that look more like entertainment.

Church as classroom: Capitalizing on the value of educational institutions in Western culture, teaching is offered as life application and insight for living.

Church as hospital or spa: The church is a place for spiritual healing and rejuvenation.

Church as motivational seminar: The church offers self-help tips on topics like better parenting or ways to improve your marriage.

Church as social-service office: The compassionate church that seeks to love its neighborhood.

Church as campaign headquarters or social-advocacy group: The church assumes the role of promoting a particular brand of political, economic, or ecological justice.

Goheen acknowledges that many of the activities represented above are valid. However, “The problem arises when the biblical story and the nature of the church are forgotten; then these activities are shaped by a different story.” Instead, our identity as church must come from our founder, Jesus Christ, and the mission He has given us (the commission to go and make disciples).

So, what story is shaping your church experience? As you study the New Testament what images of church are dominant? Do you see those images in your own church experience? Will you courageously and joyfully encourage your brothers and sisters to shed the cultural baggage that pulls us away from the biblical mission of the church and return to God’s story for His people?